Life Or Death kicks off with a perfect poser: why would you escape from prison one day before being released? The mystery manhunt which follows maintains that level of intrigue and suspense, gradually untangling the events which pushed Audie Palmer into going over the wall when 24 hours later he would’ve been a free man.
Using flashbacks to explain Audie’s present predicament by revealing the events which led up to the failed security van heist and his incarceration, keeps the core mystery shrouded in suspense and pushes the pace along. Although the author embellishes the plot with colourful incidental characters, they’re deftly drawn in a few paragraphs so the text isn’t saturated in extended, irrelevant history. The key figures essential to the plot are all a little bit quirky, easily recognisable as genre players, but each unusual enough to capture the attention.
Audie himself came up with a novel way of surviving a decade of hard-time incarceration among cons who were out for his blood – neatly steering clear of all those prison clichés. Moss, on the other hand, comes straight from jailyard central casting and carries it off perfectly: a big man, maybe Audie’s only remaining friend; maybe the person best placed to betray him. Desiree, the overlooked and under-rated FBI investigator, is another engaging creation. She’s not just got the usual obstacles of sexism and internal rivalries playing against her, but is short on stature and constantly struggles to be taken seriously. Which makes her the perfect person to start wondering whether the deaths which seems to trail Audie’s escape can really be his responsibility…
At its heart, Life Or Death is an old-fashioned love story, a book about manning up and doing the right thing. In the telling, it builds a picture of small-scale crime, organised gangsters, corrupt cops and the politicians they serve – and shows how many otherwise innocent lives are twisted first in the commission of a murderous conspiracy, and then in keeping it quiet. No matter what the cost.
The author has an easy-going style; the action flips between several characters’ perspectives and different times. There’s enough detail to push the plot along but no so much that you think you wandered into a history class by mistake. There are several tense moments when you genuinely don’t know how a stand-off is going to unfold; when all seems lost (but the author has a goodly number of credible tricks up his sleeve).
In short, an engaging mystery with a solid moral centre. A perfect book for the beach.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Life Or Death by Michael Robotham is available as an ebook or paperback